When the Atlanta-based spin off of VH1's Love & Hip Hop premiered in June, it's safe to say that viewers weren't expecting to see such an emotional side to rapper and entrepreneur Benzino. Given his past at The Source and a well-known feud with Eminem, it may have been surprising to see the Boston native crying on national television at first, but being more in touch with his feelings is a main component of what Benzino considers his "natural evolution."
Besides being the voice of reason to Stevie J and middle man in the Joseline and Mimi love triangle, Benzino's relationship with recording artist Karlie Redd has taken center stage throughout the season. Before the finale of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta rolls around tonight, Benzino spoke with Complex about his relationship with Karlie, how he's become a changed man, and gave some insight on all of the drama behind Stevie J's relationships.
Interview by Lauren Nostro (@laurencynthia)
How did you get involved with Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta?
I’ve known Stevie for a long time. We had been working on some music and when I got to Atlanta, we formed a band together and it was pretty much the relationship that you see on there with me and Stevie. We give each other advice. He knows my kids. I know his kids. It’s just a real relationship between friends.
From what I understand, you and your love interest, Karlie Redd, met prior to the show?
I had been going around with Stevie and I had seen Karlie a couple times on set. The one time when they were shooting Karlie meeting Stevie, I was outside. So when Karlie came outside, that was the first time we met. We met off-camera, we went out on a date. Then Mona [Scott-Young] was like, "If you’re going to be dating any cast members, I have to get it on camera." We had developed a good connection off-camera. At first I was a little bit leery, a little skeptical. I didn’t want myself to be portrayed in any type of negative light because I felt like I’ve been through enough of that in my life.
If somebody is using me it’s because I’m letting them. I won’t let nobody abuse me. You can use me but you can’t abuse me.
I feel like you’re portrayed in a positive light on the show.
I’ve changed my life for the better. I’ve definitely matured a lot. I’m a lot older. I see things differently. It’s all for the better.
What made you realize you had to change yourself?
I think it’s just the natural evolution of somebody. Not being self-centered and being aware of what I say and what I do as a public figure, as a celebrity, and how it affects other people. I have three kids that I’m raising. They live with me. I want to be a real role model to them and show them better. I just think it’s a natural level of maturity.
A lot of the drama we see between you and Karlie is about her career and how that’s taken over your relationship. Do you believe in her career? Do you think she has real talent?
Yes, I’ve heard some of Karlie’s music. I believe she does have talent. I believe that she focuses hard and there’s nothing like a woman that really focuses on her independence. At the same time, in a relationship, you really have to be able to balance the attention that’s being displayed. At the end of the day, your mate, whether it’s male or female, no matter what you’re doing, you still have to find time to give them attention because everybody wants to be attended to.
Do you ever get nervous that she’s using you to further her career?
I’m at the point now that if somebody is using me it’s because I’m letting them. I won’t let nobody abuse me. You can use me but you can’t abuse me. If I’m into you and I really like you, there’s nothing that I won’t do for you. I really feel like a man should go all out for the woman that they fall in love with or the woman they have a real strong connection with. With that said, if somebody takes advantage, then you have to re-think things.
For the most part, I wholeheartedly believe in love. When I met Karlie, it was a real connection. Both of us had been in the industry and we just had a real, strong connection. It happened real fast. Karlie is very outgoing and I’m kind of private in my life. Sometimes opposites can be a little bit too much, but I definitely can say that what you see on camera is real. My feelings for Karlie that are on camera are definitely what they are.
The show makes it seem like your relationship happened so fast but I’m sure there were months that went by in between episodes.
I had gave Karlie the key two months after us talking. It wasn’t like I just met her.
Let's talk about that scene where you and Karlie were arguing in bed and she told you that her manager said you were "cold." You got really emotional on screen.
This goes back to Romeo and Juliet when you have family members that don’t want you to date. If two adults have a connection, nothing else really matters. Of course, friends and family and management can give their opinions but you really have to go with your heart. It’s your decision, it’s your life, and you’ll make a mistake sometimes but go on with your heart. We’re all human.
I just wanted to prove them wrong by showing her that I’m down for her career and I wholeheartedly support whatever you support. It bothered me a little bit when it kept coming up. It gets frustrating because it starts to get redundant.
Were those tears of frustration then or were you genuinely sad?
I definitely got caught up in the moment. I’ve been through a lot in my life and I’ve made changes for the better. I want to be recognized for that and I don’t want to keep hearing about the old Benzino and the old situations with the old Benzino. I want to surround myself with positive situations and positive energy. The past is the past. It’s done and you can’t bring the past back. I think a lot of the focus was on my past, and yes, I got caught up. I got emotional on camera.
It’s an experience. I have a 19-year-old and a 15-year-old. Everybody tunes in, so of course they tune in. They like to watch the show with me.
Now we’re watching you pick out jewelry and possibly an engagement ring for Karlie. What can we expect for the future of your relationship?
I can’t say too much. You’ll have to watch the finale to see what happens. The bottom line is, I’ve never been married. I’ve dated celebrities. I’ve been in that whole realm. I’m at that point in my life where I really do want a monogamous relationship. I really do want to be with one woman and really see how that bond between two people, wholeheartedly supporting each other, works out with marriage. That’s an experience that I envy when I see other people together. I really envy that.
Is there a relationship on the show that you’re envious of?
Kirk and Rasheeda have been together for a while and they rock out. They rock out through their differences. It’s not easy especially with Kirk being the manager so that’s a great situation. But also, relationships like Obama and Michelle. Of course, I believe a man is supposed to go all out for his woman, but there’s something really sexy about a woman standing by her man that’s really amazing to me. It might sound corny but I really want that in my life.
What is it like for you to watch the shows now? Do you watch them every week?
I watch it one time and that’s it for me. It’s an experience. I have a 19-year-old and a 15-year-old. Everybody tunes in, so of course they tune in. They like to watch the show with me. My kids know Karlie. They have a great relationship with Karlie but they just want to see me happy. I don’t like to bring a whole bunch of different women around my kids. They want to see their dad happy and if I’m happy with someone then they’re happy. Watching the show is kind of surreal, watching yourself and with all the cameras in your private life, but it’s a great opportunity. The show is doing incredible, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Do you feel like you’ve been portrayed in a fair light on the show?
Yes, 100 percent. Definitely portrayed in a fair light. I cook so I have no problem with cooking for a female. I have no problem spending my money on a female if that’s what I choose to do and buying gifts for her to make her smile. I was brought up by a beautiful mother and a father that understands how to treat women. As far as manners, open up the door, let a woman on and off an elevator first. There’s certain things, it may come from the old school but I’m an older guy.
What are your surefire moves to romance a woman?
Compliments. Women love compliments. If their hair looks good. It’s the little things.
What is your favorite compliment to give?
The eyes. I’m an eyes man. You know, "Your eyes look amazing. Your eyes look beautiful." I always go to the eyes compliment. Also, if a woman has children, to show interest in their children, show interest in what they do as well as women, what they do. In the conversation, show interest in what they are about and what their children are about.
Women love fashion, so if you have a fashion sense yourself, and not just about men’s clothes, but also women’s clothes and the new stuff going out there. My involvement with Hip Hop Weekly and The Sourceinvolved me in fashion so I have my fingerprint on what’s new and what’s hot. Conversations about fashion are definitely a great thing to do. A surefire thing is also gifts. Women love gifts. Women love to be surprised so if you can keep the gifts coming and the surprises coming, that’s a great thing.
You have to be great in bed. You have to be a passionate person. Sex isn’t everything but sex is important. You gotta be able to put it down.
What is the greatest gift you’ve given to a woman?
Jacob the Jeweler, of course a very famous jeweler. I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with Jacob. This one particular time, I actually flew in Jacob, and this was with a celebrity, to put it around her neck on her birthday. A huge diamond necklace. It looked like something the Queen of England would wear. It made her really happy. Her mother was there, all her friends. That was an incredible moment.
Besides extravagant gifts, what other advice can you give for random surprises?
It’s the little things. One of my favorite stores is Barnes & Noble. I love Barnes & Noble. I love Bed, Bath & Beyond. Some guys like Home Depot, I like Bed, Bath & Beyond. If you go out and spend the time to get the gifts that aren’t normal types of gifts. Karlie was into acting and I bought her a book about filmmaking. All the Bed, Bath & Beyond stores have those little bells and whistles. It’s the little gifts that if you were on an airplane flight and you pick up the SkyMall magazine. The things that aren’t the normal, I like to do that.
What’s the last surefire move?
You have to be great in bed. You have to be a passionate person. Sex isn’t everything but sex is important and you have to be a passionate person. You gotta be able to put it down. Let’s face it, if you’re doing all of these other things and then the bedroom isn’t right then you might have a problem. Anything that you do, if you put passion into it, then everything works out alright.
So, let’s talk about the last episode before the finale. Throughout the season, it seems like you've been put in the middle of Stevie's love triangle.
You have no idea. [Laughs.] I’ve known Mimi for a while and as the show was going on, it seemed like me and Mimi would see each other and she would give me little looks. It wasn’t like how it was before. I knew her before she got with Stevie, so we were talking and I am in the middle. I’m around Joseline all the time. Mimi has a way of talking and it’s hard to get things in when she’s upset. I blurted out Joseline’s name by accident. I really didn’t mean to do that. I would hate that if I was going through that and someone did that to me. I felt genuinely bad about calling Mimi by Joseline. I apologized. I hope Mimi really understood it was a mistake.
In my head, it’s about the baby. It’s about Eva. Whatever happens with Stevie and Mimi, people need to understand that there is a child involved and that should be the number one concern. As long as Stevie is handling his business with Eva, if he chooses to stay with Joseline or if he chooses to go back with Mimi, the number one priority should be the child. Everything else will work itself out. Mimi, Joseline, and Stevie are adults and whatever it’s going to be, it’s going to be. Stevie has to be able to make a choice.
The situation with Mimi and Joseline, if he doesn’t have to make a choice then God bless Stevie. I’m sure there’s a bunch of men that will put their hands up and be like, "Let’s go Stevie!" I won’t act like I’m the most perfect guy in relationships. Have I been monogamous in relationships in the past? No. Do I understand the importance of monogamy now in relationships? Yes, I do. If you want to avoid problems and issues and craziness, then yes, you have to be a one woman man and women have to be a one man woman.
In the last episode before the finale, Joseline comes to your house and you just look bothered. You ask her if she’s having sex with Stevie or making love. Who do you think is the better fit for Stevie?
Joseline went through a lot coming up and she has no problem with telling you that and that she’s trying to change her life. Joseline being young, she has a lot of stuff to work out within herself. What I like about Joseline is that for as much as she might say stuff about Stevie, she still builds him up and gives him the props. Stevie is a Grammy-winning producer and he’s done a lot of great stuff in the music industry and that gets lost within all this craziness. I think Mimi, having the baby, genuinely loves Stevie beyond the industry stuff.
When you look at it, if you could put them together and make one superwoman... [Laughs.] Mimi has great things for Stevie and Joseline has great things. It’s really going to be a decision for Stevie J. It’s not easy being a producer in this industry and whether it’s this industry or if you’re an athlete, it’s hard because there’s women all around at the time. It’s an issue of Stevie finding himself and finding what he wants.
Stevie is a Grammy-winning producer and he’s done a lot of great stuff in the music industry and that gets lost within all this craziness.
Do you think he will?
I’ve known Stevie J for a long time and it’s really about how the day goes. He’s a great father to his children and he’s God fearing. I hope he does choose and I hope that he finds what he’s looking for because everybody deserves to be happy. The women, whether its Joseline or Mimi, it’s the same for them. Whoever he doesn’t choose, I’m sure there’s a man out there for them that will give them the love they deserve.
Is Stevie still staying with you now?
No, Stevie’s got his own place now. [Laughs.]
He’s got his own crib. I had a big spot so it wasn’t like he was on the couch. I got a pretty big crib. Stevie’s my man and I’m sure if I was in a situation where I needed to stay, friends are there for friends.
In a recent interview that Stevie and Joseline did on ThisIs50 radio, they just didn’t have nice things to say about Karlie. What was your reaction to that? He was imitating her singing.
I was a little bit surprised with that because Stevie doesn’t want anybody doing that to Joseline. He doesn’t want nobody talking about Joseline and what she does. For him to do that to Karlie, I was a little bit surprised at that but people are going to say what they want to say based on their mood at the moment. If that’s what they think about Karlie’s music, they have their opinion.
Everybody’s going to have opinions. That’s the world. Karlie looks at it and it just motivates her to put out bigger songs and do better. You have to use negativity as motivation to prove them wrong. That’s just bottom line. Karlie Redd’s skin is thick. I can’t say that enough. She’s a pretty strong woman. I don’t think that bothered her so much.
What’s next for you after the show?
Of course, we have Hip Hop Weekly magazine. I’m coming out with a new album. I’m doing some things with my friend and mentor Kedar Massenburg. He’s been very instrumental. When I was signed as a solo artist at Motown, I did really well with him. He’s someone I look up to business-wise and there’s a lot of opportunities and doors that will be opening so people will be looking out for Benzino.
A lot of the songs [on the new album] are based around women. That’s my whole thing now. I’ve been through relationships and a lot of stuff. You can probably expect an album coming out the first of next year. I’ll be throwing out singles and just getting out there and doing my thing. There’s a second season of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta coming out and I would love to do some acting stuff. There’s a whole new life for Benzino and I’m just soaking it all in. God is great.